Beyond Magritte

under the staircase

On the way to the Belgian painting exhibit I happened upon the best single piece of art I’ve seen in many years. But I’ll have to get to that in my next art post.  In the meantime, you’ll have to be content with my new favorite Belgian painter, and several exciting Japanese contemporary artists.

ensor to magritte

The exhibit itself, From Ensor to Magritte: Belgian Painting between 1880 and 1940, was on the whole a rather ho-hum affair. I was unfamiliar with most of the artists so it was educational to be exposed to them. And historically, it was interesting to see what parallel developments were happening alongside France, which is where the real action was at the time.

I was struck mostly with how dark and gloomy most of the paintings were. Even the ones with color had a shadowy damp pallor that was hard to embrace. When I got to the headliner, disappointingly only three pieces by the surrealist Rene Magritte, I was underwhelmed by how weak the coloring was. The posters of the show featuring his works were actually more vibrant and energetic than the actual paintings themselves.

Still, all was not lost and I discovered my new favorite Belgian painter, the expressionist Frits Van den Berghe. My favorite piece was ‘Paul-Gustave Van Hecke and his wife Norine’. The silvery dress of the wife seemed to pop out of the painting like a shimmering fish writhing free of the oppressive Belgian gloom.

Frits Van den Berghe

The Three Kawas

Despite my poor review I still recommend going to the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery because of one of the side exhibits, Imaginarium no. 34. This is an ongoing series of mostly Japanese contemporary artists.  I highly recommend checking this out.  The following are some of my favorite artists featured.

The single non-Japanese artist featured is Nils Udo. He uses natural found materials, arranges them and photographs them, like this giant nest. More art in the world like this please.

nils udo

I also enjoyed Asao Kawahara’s minimalistic use of color, shapes and objects. There’s technically nothing groundbreaking about his paintings except that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. My gaze lingered over such details as the wrinkles on the rug or the subtle shadows of the corners.

asao kawahara

Etsuko Kawamura takes the opposite approach and fills out her canvas with a maze of details in calming tones. Notice her successful gimmick in this piece of portraying the scene as through a dripping fogged up window.

etsuko kawamura

And then there are artists who are just out there. I dig the pseudo-apocalyptic themes of Kimio Kawaguchi. Asteroids, feathers, arrows and pomegranates fly through her barren primal landscapes. kimio kawaguchi

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Magritte. His surrealistic paintings paved the way for artists like the ones above. Maybe the oils of his paintings have faded over the years. Maybe he had a weak grip on his brushes. Maybe he’s like a scratchy phonograph that at the time was a revelation, but now fades in comparison to the digitized splendor of today’s art.

(The photograph at the top is of the water feature beneath the stairs of the Tokyo Opera City.)

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